A Palestinian Refugee Camp Wakes Up to a “State”

One father sarcastically responded to his daughter “Palestine has been liberated and the right of return has been achieved.” (Photo: Haytham al-Moussawi)

By: Qassem Qassem, Robert Abdallah

Published Wednesday, December 5, 2012

When Gaza emerged victorious from the November Israeli assault, Palestinian refugees living in north Lebanon’s Baddawi Camp did not hesitate to take to the streets in celebration. But when Palestine became a non-member state at the UN, the response among them was not as enthusiastic.

In the Baddawi Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli in north Lebanon, the elation from the Gaza victory began to fade shortly after a controversial visit by a March 14 delegation to the the Strip.

Seeing Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra, who is implicated in the deaths of many Palestinians during the Lebanese Civil War, paraded around Gaza by Hamas officials made many question the nature of the ceasefire deal that ended the conflict.

Then, Baddawi camp residents awoke in the middle of the night last Thursday, 6 December 2012, to the sound of celebratory gunfire and fireworks. An announcement had been made from New York that Palestine’s status in the UN had been upgraded to a non-member state.

Despite the fireworks, the UN decision was not received with the same collective support that was seen when the Gaza assault ended. Many were not even aware that a vote on such a critical issue was underway.

One father sarcastically responded to his daughter – who asked him whether the Palestinian groups in the camp were fighting amongst each other – by saying that they are celebrating because “Palestine has been liberated and the right of return has been achieved.”

Others pointed to the fact that the newly declared state includes only 22 percent of historic Palestine. Maysoon Mustafa repeated to Al-Akhbar what she wrote on her Facebook page, calling on people “to raise black flags in protest of the declaration – focus on ‘non-member’ and ‘on the 1967 lands.’”

Another Baddawi resident explained the new “observer state” status by telling a joke in which a young boy asks his grandmother what the term means. She answers by saying, “An observer member stands from afar and watches until a seat is available, where it can sit, keeping its mouth shut, for fear of being kicked out.”

As for Shadi Abu-Ayed, who hails from al-Tireh in the part of Palestine occupied in 1948, he said there is nothing to celebrate “when my hometown is not included in the new state.”

Abu-Mohammad al-Ghazal for his part said that it was a UN decision that created Israel in the first place, so there is no point appealing to the same body to redress this grave injustice.

After all, he continued, those with influence at the UN, such as the US and the European countries, are the very same powers that support Israel with financial and military aid.

A man standing next to Ghazal who did not give his name, protested that the declared state in effect cancels the right of return for many Palestinians, most of whom were expelled from areas occupied in 1948.

He explained that at the end of the day, the status upgrade further legitimizes the establishment of the state of Israel on stolen land, adding that the intention on the part of the Palestinian Authority was to register a “diplomatic victory” along the lines of what happened in Gaza at the hands of the resistance.

When Gaza’s rockets were falling on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Baddawi’s residents were more than happy to express their opinions to journalists, but when it comes to appraising the ceasefire agreement or explaining the meaning of the recent diplomatic gains, most were at a loss of things to say.

Many refugees in the camp were reluctant to wade into such a discussion because it would inevitably lead to divisive criticism of one Palestinian faction or another, followed by acrimonious debates among their supporters.

In the Burj al-Barajneh camp in Beirut’s southern suburbs, the response to the UN vote was not much different. Fatah members emptied their bullets into the sky in celebration, leaving many camp residents wondering whether some sort of armed altercation had broken out.

Once word of the status upgrade got around, reactions among the refugees were mixed. Abu Mustafa al-Shaafati, for example, noted that the step “is good for those who are from the 1967 lands, but does a disservice to those who were expelled in 1948.”

Shaafati is from Akka, which he was forced to leave when he was a child. He has no interest in a state that does not return him to the city where he was born.

As for Ibrahim, who is a member of Fatah, he sees the declaration of a state as a step toward the complete liberation of Palestine.

“The resistance succeeded in Gaza, just as diplomacy won in Ramallah,” adding that “Israel was furious over President [Mahmoud] Abbas’ step, and the declaration of a state does not mean a retreat away from historic Palestine, for we can add newly liberated lands to the State of Palestine.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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